New season, new players, new rules, but same old exciting football. The opening weekend of the Premier League lived up to its billing, with its fair share of drama and excitement reminding us all why it is the very best in the world.
With all the teams having played their opening fixture, here’s a recap of all the talking points from each game.
Hull City vs Leicester City
Undoubtedly the biggest upset of the weekend. Having been touted as outright favorites to win this clash with a convincing scoreline, it was the newly promoted Tigers, who are currently without a manager, void of a fit squad and relegation favorites that got away with all three points.
Hull took the lead when Adama Diomande and Abel Hernandez combined acrobatically, with Diomande awarded the goal. Probably the first time I’ve seen an overhead assist in the Premier League. Riyad Mahrez pulled the Foxes level with an early second half penalty but it wasn’t enough in the end as Robert Snodgrass earned the Tigers victory after a cross was not cleared.
Leicester set an unwanted record, becoming the first reigning champions to start the season with a loss since 1989. It wasn’t the characteristic fast football coupled with a solid defense that was the hallmark of their unprecedented success last season. The squad seems to be unbalanced, most notably with the loss of N’golo Kanté and Andy King lacking the energy and positional awareness of the France international. It’s still early days however, and Ranieri still has time to work with his squad before facing Arsenal this Saturday at home.
Burnley vs Swansea City
Francesco Guidolin got off to a great start in first game in charge of the Swans, edging out newly promoted Burnley in a closely fought encounter. New signing Leroy Fer got the late winner after Tom Heaton was unable to hold on to Fernando Llorente’s header to give Swansea all three points. It was the Clarets’ first league defeat since 26 December 2015, when they were in the Championship.
Swansea fans were delighted to see their new target man Llorente get of to a decent start, often proving to be a threat in front of goal. The 31-year-old did not look out of place and could prove to be a threat once he links up with fellow striker and club record £15m signing Borja Baston, who was not involved for this outing.
Burnley created chances against Swansea, but a lack of clinical finishing may force manager Sean Dyche to plunge into the transfer market again before the window shuts. Striker Andy Gray, who was the 2015/16 Championship’s Player of the Year, had an awfully quiet debutin the league as he was unable to trouble Fabianski consistently.
Burnley’s next outing is away at Liverpool while Swansea host Hull, both taking place on Saturday at the same time.
Crystal Palace vs West Brom
Salomon Rondon scored the only goal of the game as his 74th minute header gave West Brom a narrow win over the Eagles in a largely drab opener at Selhurst Park. With both sides managing only six Premier League wins between them in 2016 – two for Palace and four for West Brom, it was hardly going to be a thriller.
New Crystal Palace signing Andros Townsend was unable to inspire the Eagles, but certainly can’t be faulted for his effort. The 25-year-old was full of running on his debut, and regularly came in off the wing for shooting opportunities. With Yannick Bolassie having signed for Everton, the direct running and trickery of Townsend might prove to be instrumental, provided he finds his scoring boots.
A 1-0 scoreline is one we’ve come to associate Tony Pulis and his West Brom side with. After all, seven of West Brom’s 10 Premier League wins last season finished 1-0 and so no fan could be utterly disappointed with that. However, with rumors that exciting prospect Sadio Berahino could be on his way to Stoke, Pulis’ might have to find another strike partner for Rondon before the end of the transfer window. He did reassure the fans by stating that “He won’t be leaving unless we bring someone in,”.
West Brom host Everton, while Palace go to Tottenham next Saturday.
Everton vs Tottenham
These two teams shared the spoils at Goodison Park on Saturday, with Everton impressing in their first league game under Ronald Koeman. Ross Barkeley opened the scoring with a deceptively accurate freekick that foold Hugo Lloris in the 5th minute. Argentine winger Erik Lamela then leveled the score early in the second half, meeting Kyle Walker’s cross with an accurate header.
With that kind of performance from a Toffees’ side that Koeman claimed to be “only 70% fit” one can only shudder to think how devastating they’ll be at 100%. Their high pressing unsettled Spurs for a majority of the game, forcing many errors and turnovers as a result. This style of football, seen under the Dutchman when he was at Southampton, has quickly been incorporated at his new club. Gerard Deulofeu, filling in for the injured Romelu Lukaku, performed particularly well, often pressing the Spurs center-backs when out of possession.
For Spurs, the major talking point must be the injury to their star goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris. The Spurs keeper came off in the 35th minute with a hamstring injury, but Michel Vorm deputized well for the remainder of the game. Harry Kane also had a game to forget, looking still exhausted from his summer exploits at the Euros.It was a similar story for attacking midfielders Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, who at least managed a shot on goal in the first half. New signing Vincent Janssen sparked some life into the side however, with Spur’s equalizer coming in just four minutes after his introduction.
Both teams will accept that a score draw was the most likeliest outcome, and push forward with their campaign as I’m sure they’ll only progress from here.
Everton are away at West Brom next Saturday and Spurs host Crystal Palace at the same time.
Middlesbrough vs Stoke City
Boro were denied full marks on their return to the top flight via a deftly executed Xherdan Shaqiri free kick deep in the second half. Boro’s new marksman Alvaro Negredo, on loan from Valencia, combined with fellow new signing Gaston Ramirez to open the scoring in the 11th minute with his first shot on goal; similar to his debut at Manchester City. It was a solid display by Middlesbrough and many agree that they deserved to win this match.
Ramirez particularly impressed and continued his fine form from last season. The Uruguayan produced some lovely touches, linked up with Negredo well, and had his low driven shot found the inside rather than the outside of the post. An exciting signing that FPL managers should consider as a budget midfielder.
Stoke really didn’t deserve anything from this fixture, a statement reinforced by the fact that they scored with their only shot on goal. They looked sluggish and struggled to control proceedings in the midfield and the left flank in particular, where Boro left back George Friend had a field day.
If Middlesbrough can maintain the same level of play that saw them concede only eight goals at home all season, then there’s nothing that will stop them from surviving the drop at the end of the season.
Middlesbrough travel to Sunderland on Sunday afternoon while The Potters host Manchester City on Saturday.
Southampton vs Watford
It was a sub-par performance from the Saints that saw them share the points with Watford. Etienne Capoue opened the scoring with a well rifled shot in the ninth minute. New Saint Nathan Redmond leveled the score in the 58th minute from a Dusan Tadic corner. It will be Claude Puel’s men with plenty to ponder after this game, as his side looked labored and lacked cutting edge after falling behind until Redmond’s equalizer.
With a busy Europa League schedule coming up, Puel needs to find a balance that offers an attacking threat while keeping things tight at the back. The team’s transition phases don’t look clear cut, leading to rather pragmatic football especially while in possession (which they had plenty of). It wasn’t all doom and gloom however, as former Bayern Munich midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg provided promise with his surging runs after coming on as a substitute. Dusan Tadic also put in a commendable performance.
On the other hand, Watford seemed the brighter side, putting on a good performance in Walter Mazzarri’s first competitive game in charge. Aside from their attack which could do with some work (they only had one shot on target), the rest of the team looked quite solid, an in particular goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes. He was kept busy by a lively Dusan Tadic but responded with an impressive performance. Craig Cathcart and Sebastian Prodl were both solid at the back, particularly after Watson’s dismissal left them seriously under pressure.
Even though the Saints didn’t play well, a loss would’ve been a harsh result. The draw was most fitting.
Southampton’s next game is against Manchester United at Old Trafford next Friday while Watford face Chelsea the following day.
Manchester City vs Sunderland
Pep Guardiola’s men were spared blushes by a Paddy McNair own goal that saw them register a rather unconvincing victory against a resolute Sunderland side. Sergio Agüero opened the scoring with a well dispatched penalty after Raheem Sterling was brought down in the box. Jermain Defoe struck late in the second half and almost caused an upset before Paddy McNair, headed into his own net in the 87th minute.
While they got all the points as was expected, it was hardly the instant revolution that City fans might have hoped for. It was a performance that lacked creative spark, despite dominating possession against a side that only avoided relegation in their penultimate game last season. It is worthy to note however that Guardiola was without some of the old guards as well as new signings, including Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri, Nicolas Otamendi, Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan. It was clear that John Stones needs a solid experienced center-back to work with.
Sunderland can take encouragement from their performance at the Etihad. Despite rarely seeing the ball, Sunderland restricted the hosts’ chances and made openings for themselves, most notably the passage of play that led to the equalizer. David Moyes is well known for his defensive qualities and with a couple of more signings, we shouldn’t see them ship more careless goals that saw them almost relegated last season.
Sunderland host Middlesbrough on Sunday, 21 August while Manchester City travel to Romania on Tuesday for the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest, before facing Stoke on Saturday.
Bournemouth vs Manchester United
The Jose Mourinho era begun with an emphatic victory against the Cherries, with a convincing performance that was non-existent the last time United played this fixture last season. Juan Mata, who was substituted after coming on in last week’s Community Shield, opened the scoring with a tap-in after Simon Francis’ error. Wayne Rooney headed the second before Zlatan Ibrahimovic marked his United league debut with a goal from 25 yards.
Adam Smith scored a consolation goal for the Cherries.
Three of United’s four summer signings took their bows at the Vitality Stadium. Eric Bailly and Zlatan ibrahimovic impressed, while Henrikh Mhykitaryan came on in the final 15 minutes when the game was pretty much wrapped up.
There’s still work to be done by Eddie Howe, who despite making six major signings, still looks short of quality in some areas on the pitch; particularly in defense. Bournemouth conceded 67 goals last season – more than relegated Newcastle – and they needed Boruc at his best to keep United from a more handsome win. It could be curtains for the Cherries if this isn’t done in good time. For United, however, the only way is up.
Bournemouth travel to West Ham on Sunday, while United welcome Southampton at Old Trafford for the first Friday night fixture of the league.
Arsenal vs Liverpool
Liverpool came out on top in a seven goal thriller at the Emirates, a opening result that has become all too familiar among the Arsenal faithful. Goals from new signing Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and a brace from Phillipe Coutinho were enough to outgun the Gunners, whose goals were from Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Callum Chambers.
While it’s clear that Arsenal’s concern is at the back, it really puzzles me as to why boss Arsene Wenger decided not to invest yet again. With injured senior defenders Per Mertesacker and Gabriel out for some time,and Laurent Koscielny is still not match fit after his exploits at Euro 2016, defensive signings should have been a priority this summer. The only high profile signing, Granit Xhaka, made a woeful debut, often mistiming his tackles.
Liverpool on the other hand could do with a lesson or two about wrapping up matches. From being 4-1 up to winning by a solitary goal, there’s still much Klopp needs to do with his defense as well as the squad’s match managing in such a huge clash. All credit for making it past the line, though.
Arsenal face Leicester next Saturday at the King Power Stadium while Liverpool are away again, this time at Burnley on the same day.
Chelsea vs West Ham
Diego Costa’s 89th minute strike handed Antonio Conte his first win in charge of the Blues as his side secured a season-opening victory over West Ham.Eden Hazard had put the Blues in front from the spot after Michail Antonio fouled César Azpilicueta. James Collins leveled for the Hammers, but Costa’s finish settled it.
Chelsea should’ve won this fixture more comfortably, considering they controlled all the possession and had six shots on target. N’golo Kante looked solid on his debut, and Hazard showed glimpses of his quality that we expect to grow with more time. New striker Michy Batshuayi had a decent cameo as well, providing the assist for the winner.
West Ham still have a few nails to hammer. I’m not fully convinced that Antonio should be playing in defense, while Enner Valencia had a game to forget, failing to influence the run of play from the beginning. Striker Ayew, a £20m signing from Swansea, had a miserable night as he limped off in the first half with a thigh injury and Payet had little time to make things happen. However, Bilic seems well aware of this and we should see changes ahead of the weekend.
Chelsea travel to Watford on Saturday while West Ham first travel to Romania for their Europa league qualifier against Astra Giurgiu before facing Bournemouth on Sunday.